Welcome to where I am, where my kitchen's always messy, a pot's (or a poet) always about to boil over, a dog is always begging to be fed. Drafts of poems on the counter. Windows filled with leaves. Wind. Clouds moving over the mountains. If you like poetry, books, and music--especially dog howls when a siren unwinds down the hill-- you'll like it here.




Monday, December 31, 2012


Roaming around the yard with my camera, I couldn't let 2011 go and had to photograph the sunset on New Year's Eve last year. The trees stood fast, casting their sarabande of naked limbs against the sky.

 I love how the sun hangs on, throwing all its passionate self into its leavetaking, especially on a day like this, pulling dust, clouds, all shades of the spectrum into its farewell.  The brush and limbs weave a tapestry, an embroidery needing no human handiwork.

The dogs at the door way wonder what the heck I'm doing wandering around in the near dark.  Have I found a cache of bones, a buried secret, an intruder to chase?   Why won't I come back in and scratch their bellies?

I think, too, of the friends we've lost over the past year, caught up now in whatever lies within this glorious light of leavetaking.  Patrick Morris, J.P. Holmes, my dear friend Elizabeth's son, too young to be taken away, Harriette's husband Don, Jean Pittillo,  Richard's Peggy, so many....
"Walk in the world for us, " they ask.  And so in this New Year, we set forth.

Sunday, December 30, 2012


(Trees through the blue glass on my kitchen window sill}
To blog or not to blog, that is the question several of my facebook friends' posts.  Blogging uses up a lot of time, and in the midst of a busy life, not to mention in the midst of late middle age, I feel the urge to blog less than before.

Still, here it is, a clear sunny morning at the end of 2012, and I'm sitting in my easy chair looking out at the mountains.  And the trees.  The trees I watch every morning, noon, and evening as they settle into darkness, which now that the solstice has passed, will be shorter and shorter until in July I can look out my bedroom window at trees I dream of climbing, winding my soul around, as I drift off to an early bedtime.

 I've tried to write poems about this, the mountains and the trees framed by my windows.  "The magic of windows and doors," as my novelist friend Vicki Lane calls it.  The magic is in the calling. Come here, come here, our windows and doors beckon. Here is darkness falling, here is light rising up, here is your own face in the glass after dark has taken hold.  Your own face through which what is left of outside flows through just enough to haunt, to beckon to you.  Come inside yourself.

At the year's turn, we do that, whether we want or not.  Resolutions, what are they but an inner journey into what we believe we desire.  Fewer pounds, more friends, less moralizing and judging each other, including ourselves.  "Help me not to be so mean," a Flannery O'Connor character prays.  I pray the same, that the meanness that so easily seeps into everyday can be kept at bay.
Meanwhile the sun journeys across the clear sky, the bare trees shine like silver, and I sit here blogging my way through the short while before noon.
       Another lunch to prepare.  Butternut soup,
        turkey sandwiches.
       A glass of wine.
(Winter dawn through my bedroom window)
       Another year's window about to open.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Sheaf of Christmas Poems

Going through old computer files yesterday, I found these Christmas poems, originally part of the manuscript that became BLACK SHAWL. I saw Mary in these pieces as being here in the NC mountains rather than being a young girl in Nazareth over 2000 years ago. The reader at LSU Press suggested they be dropped, that they functioned better as a small chapbook of poems to be published later. They've waited ever since. As well as I can remember, they were first printed years ago in a journal whose poetry editor was my friend Janice Townley Moore. The Georgia Journal, I believe was its name. Anyway, here they are again, two days before another Christmas. The photos come from sunsets in S. Georgia and holly bushes, as well as waxing and full moons, here in the mountains.


is her color
because it was always the last
thing she saw through

her window before losing
count of the heddle’s
beat. Blue hem

beyond reach, she
dreamed herself
wearing it, skirt flaring

out of the narrow glass
where she saw turning
and turning her own image

till in a swoon
she might gather up into the blue
lap of heaven

the stars and the moon
as if they were no more than
the first fruits of May,

the wild strawberries
she loved to eat as she carried
them home to her table.


This wind!
She cannot hold her bonnet
against it and lets go
the sashes. A kite of blue
calico sails away over
the fields while a child laughs
and points at the spectacle,
blustery March making light
of her modesty till not a hairpin’s
left clinging, her heavy braids
tumbling like bell-ropes
around her. So here she stands,
skirt swelling forth in its manifold
emptiness, as if she’s come
to the edge of a sea
and hears far out a voice
calling, gull maybe,
though she lives nowhere near
water and she knows her name
is not BEATA.


what have we made of you,
when you were happy enough to be nursing
your baby, ignoring the tumult of heaven,
the scuffle of shepherd’s feet.
Wise men on camels meant little to you,
their frankincense, myrrh.
You could take it or leave it.

What good would it do you
whose only concern was the milk you felt
slowly beginning to thicken your breasts?
Or the worry that Joseph had not eaten,
you should have brought along more
of your grandmother’s journey-cake,
more of her dried figs and almonds.

No seafarer's daughter, you grew up
to quail at the stories of drowning men
merchants brought back from the sea ports,
for you were no braver than most women.
You liked to think of yourself as a drop
in the Lord’s deep and, save for a scribe’s
error, you might have stayed "stilla maris"
forever. You had no desire to be star

to whom mariners cried out
for centuries, struggling to grab
hold your sleeve as they’re sinking.


looking out at the straggle
of sheepherders leading their flock
to the hovel where you are still groggy
from childbirth. You wish they would go away,
seek out some other to worship,
for you are too tired to look blessed.
But it is expected of you.
Now and for two thousand years you must
lift up your eyes from your infant
and hear us out, bearing
such words as could almost make you
believe you are beautiful.


And what of you, Joseph? Still lost in the barn
shadows, stroking your beard
while the curious goats crowd about her,
as if they have already guessed who she is,
not just any poor country girl born

to the tending of livestock. When she calls,
you do not go near.
Is the sight of such bringing forth
more than you fear you can bear?
Not to mention her blood
and the odor of animal everywhere.

All night you stand in the dark stall knowing
your name never crosses
her lips. How much longer before you will go
to her, man enough at last to look
upon God in His baffling dependency?

Thursday, November 29, 2012



When your life
Becomes a butterfly
Resting on a palm--
And all its color
Becomes the moment of your truth--
Then your heartbeat will call your hand to your chest
And you will feel that you have always been loved--

Hear me--
You come into this world
Knowing all the answers--
Here is the time to take them all
And fling them up, up into the sky
Where they fly together--and call themselves home.

What you think about, you bring about.  Bring joy.

from Indicia, by Lara Tucker Cottrell

This is the last poem in Lara's posthumous collection of poems.  The butterfly reminds me of Mahmoud Darwish's image of butterfly, the flinging of all the answers into the sky, of Rainer Maria Rilke, but Lara has made the images her own.  The answers flying, calling themselves home....one of her last visions of joy.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Lara Tucker Cottrell succumbed to cancer at the age of 45.   One of her most powerful poems, Diagnosis, illuminates her emotional journey after learning of her prognosis.  I love the wildness and sheer determination to live, no matter how long, in this poem.  



The red face of the trees at dusk
Autumn puts it set to stage light
The early nighttime walking
Working like a balm, a cool pallor
I trace the veins of my life
As I pull through the air
Leading like a dancer


Secretly walking in the dark morning
I travel the road as a loner arising suspicions at five thirty am. m. with my wild dogs
The empty fields like barren women
The dress like powerful anvils
Keeping me between the ground and the sky
The cars slow down to peer at us
For I am wired to me, the dogs breathe hard, we
     are all one muscle


I have no time left
Or I have all the time I need
An incandescent, glowing,
Like the moon-washed water of the ocean,
Burning like the tips of the trees in the fall sun.


I am balancing in the cold sparkle of the turning season
My life re-handed to me
And I am holding it in my hand
As the sun brings it to light


they gave me so many months
I decided many, many years
I said you will die before me
To the doctor and laughed
And he did that itchy-eyed smile
That nervous doctors do


And I looked out the window
And my husband held my hand
And the sun got caught in the trees
and it winked at me
And I was still crying, but I was starting again


Because the earth holds me like its love
And there is nothing but air to breathe
And people to love
And my dogs and I went walking in the early
And they smelled the air
And I rubbed up against them
With my glowing, glowing body

Lara Tucker Cottrell,
from Indicia

Because Lara was of Cherokee descent, Wayah the wolf 
must have been with her on these night walks.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lara Tucker Cottrell

As the hours tick down on this November 26th,  another busy day, much too busy as far as I'm concerned, I want to take time to celebrate a woman whose life ended too soon, at the young age of 45.   Lara Tucker Cottrell was a gifted poet and teacher, a daughter, wife, and mother to her two children.  She left behind a manuscript of poetry that her parents Lanny and Ellie Tucker published a few months ago, titled Indicia.  They asked me to write a foreword to it, which I was honored to do, having found Lara's poetry vibrant and memorable.   I will be posting a few of her poems over the next several days.  I wish you happy birthday, Lara, through the walls of time, as Bill Monroe sang in his haunting song by that name.

I hear a voice out in the darkness

It .... whispers through the pines
I know it's my sweetheart a calling
I hear her through the walls of time


Foreword to the poetry of Lara Tucker Cottrell

         Trying to gather up words for a poet whose poems have come to me so soon after her untimely leave-taking  feels like trying to navigate the mystery of poetry itself--the undercurrents, the backwaters, the glimmering surfaces that always promise more and yet more that lives beneath.  Untimely, that cliché we use when someone leaves us too early!  And yet, used here in this gathering of words,  it is much more than a cliché.  It, too, is a mystery, for in her last poems, Lara Cottrell seems to move outside time.  Beyond it, into a place of what I call "always." Siempre.  She "untimes" time, undoes it as if unlacing a corset's stays.  She lets it fall away and in doing so, she becomes all luminous body and breath.  
     As a child she was immersed in the world of her senses, the first requirement for a poet, as Federico Garcia Lorca reminds us.  Even as a child she became a "professor of the five bodily senses," to quote Lorca.  Every pore in her body was and remained open.  Her ears, eyes, the tips of her fingers, mingling sight, sound,  and and taste in ways that  a classroom professor would call synaesthesia.  She wove her world together through poetry, her poet's heritage as ancient as the Cherokee language still spoken in the Carolina mountains. The mythic hawk Tlanuwa must have visited Lara often, riding the currents of her imagination.  Wayah the wolf must have been with her in her  poem "Diagnosis," his eyes glowing, like her own glowing body, as she walked her  "wild dogs" in the windy night, saying "...I am wired to me, the dogs breathe hard, we are all one muscle." 
     Moments like these, the flare of language and image that reveals what lies beneath ordinary reality, pulse within all of these poems, for perhaps that is what poetry is, the muscle of language moving us into the territory  of transformation.  Lara's poetry walks fearlessly into that territory, her last poem, “Healing,” leaving us with the image of a butterfly: "When your life/Becomes a butterfly/Resting on a palm--/ And all its color/ becomes the moment of your truth--/Then your heartbeat will call your hand to your chest/And you will feel that you have always been loved."  The great contemporary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, whose own death came much too early, once wrote, The poem is always incomplete, the butterflies make it whole.  Were the two of them already breaking bread together, as W.H. Auden says art enables us to do, already together in that timeless realm of the imagination?  “What you think about, you bring about.  Bring joy,” Lara reminds us in the last line of her last poem.    Her poems bring that joy in abundance.  Read them and enter the life of a poet completely alive to her world, both inner and outer.  Come be alive with her through her voice.  Her joy.


Lara’s parents have published her poems in a book titled Indicia, a work she was hoping to complete before she died.

It also contains some etchings and drawings by her father, Lanny, and photographs by her sister Sasha-- which are used to divide some sections-- photographs of Lara and her family, and tributes to her memory including a special eulogy written by her brother Scott.

Proceeds from the sale of Indicia will go into a fund for Lara's children, Laja and Logan.
If you would like to purchase a copy or copies, please send a payment of $16.63 for a soft cover copy or $25.96 for a hard cover copy. This includes sales tax and mailing costs. [The check can be made out toL. Tucker/Indicia with a notation on the left lower side of the check that it is for "Indicia"].

 Orders should be accompanied by the address to which the book[s] should be mailed.
The mailing address for the order is:    Indicia.
                                                             PO Box 3084
                                                             Chapel Hill, N.C.

The cost of the book is $13.86 for a soft copy and $23.49 for a hard copy.

Friday, September 21, 2012


The Flint River surges along its journey a mere three miles from the farm where I grew up.   The town of Newton, Georgia lies along its banks and the old Newton Bridge used to be the object of great trepidation when we would drive over it.  One-lane and ramshackle (or so it sounded) it always caused us womenfolk to worry that a truck would come our way and force us into the muddy depths.  "Don't look down," my mother would warn.  What might we see if we did?

This poem, in the ancient Persian form of the ghazal, explores that obsession with the river.  The first in  a series I hope to write about the Flint, it introduces some of the obsessive imagery I've carried with me over the years.  This poem appears in the current Pembroke Magazine.

River Voices

           " ...  say the  past is a muddy
                                                     -- Evie Shockley

When  she lowers her hands to the river
she feels many dead voices translating river.

Her fingers turn cold, but her lips part,
as if, like a hooked  fish, she longs for the river.

Don’t look down, her mother warned; shifting
the Ford into second gear, crossing the river.

The drawbridge’s rusty spine still rattles
memories she tries to dredge from the river.  

Old men cast their histories into the depths
she can’t reach.  Stories keep shape-shifting over the river.

The trees keep their roots to themselves;
but they let their reflections be stroked by the river. 

When she hears the cricket frogs singing,
she wants to lie down on the banks of the river.

Come night she hears voices.  A drunken brawl.  Somebody
cursing the day he was born.  Somebody trying to drown in the river.

The backwater nags at her.  Dare she strip 
down to the bone and walk barefooted into the river?

Saturday, September 15, 2012


The new issue of Pembroke Magazine is fresh off the press, focused on the American South and edited by Jennifer Key, herself a rising young poet with many accolades to her credit, including a prize from Shenandoah, one of the country's most celebrated literary journals.  I hope to feature her work eventually on this blog.

Jennifer asked me to send her some poems for this issue, which I was happy to do.  The following piece had its beginning twelve years ago while I was at the Hambidge Center in north Georgia.  I had brought stacks of journals I'd kept, filled with drafts of poems in handwriting I often could no longer read terribly well.  I pulled a few lines out from my scribbles, typed them into a disk on my ancient Mac, and proceeded to forget them.  This spring I pulled them out again and completed this poem.

I grew up reading my father's weighty books on the Civil War, haunted by the photographs of soldiers and battlefields, memorizing descriptions of the battlefields.....Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg.  At the center of my fixation, though, was Sherman's march through Georgia, branded forever into my memory by Gone With the Wind.  I wrote at least three poems about that experience, one entitled " Seeing GWTW for the Sixth Time," an obsession halted, I hope, by the the last GWTW poem I will ever write (I hope) titled "Gone Again."  This poem comes at the subject of William Tecumseh Sherman from another angle.     War is still hell, and we have only to look at our latest battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan to see the wasteland it creates, the scorched earth approach that Sherman practiced so well.

 From a Safe Distance

“War is hell,” Sherman said,
torching his way from Atlanta 
to the port of Savannah,
with God knows how many
small towns left burning between.
But tonight who’d believe him?
This new war’s a video game.
Push a button.  
Just look, we are winning,
the missiles on target,
 the clean zap of
bombs hitting bulls-eye! 
A child’s game
for overgrown children. 
A genius,  that S.O.B. Sherman,
he knew, once a war has been turned loose, 
it goes where it bloody well pleases.

Growing up, I found war
in the pages of Civil War volumes  
my father collected.  Photos of Stonewall
and Lee, the lost faces of 15 year olds
and the corpses at Shiloh seemed more real 
than counterparts snapped during D-Day
or, later, the peasants  
littering a road outside My Lai.  
Back then war was a book 
I could open or close when I wanted
and draw from a safe distance
its inevitable conclusions. 

No photos tonight of the slain
on my television screen,
no houses scattered like book pages
ripped from their spines,
but soon we’ll see leakage of bodies
blown into a digitized rubble by pilots
who speak with an accent I understand,
down-home and commonsense.
Do what you have to do.  
Lock on those suckers
and bring them down.  Sherman
would be pleased, the streets burning,
nothing much left of another small town. 

My Lai----Photo by Ronald L. Haeberle

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


One of our state's best poets has had to be patient for many years before seeing his first full-length collection published.  This spring he was able to hold that book in his hands and celebrate.   Those of you who have followed this blog know that I've devoted several posts to John York's work, so type  his name into the poet's slot to the right of this new post to read more about his poetry.  Go to Press 53's website to order his book, read his biography, and learn more about the artist who created the cover image.

Today's GOOD NEWS is that John and his daughter Rachel will appear at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, NC this coming Saturday evening, Sept. 1, for a reading from the book and a performance of old ballads by Rachel.

  Drop by at 6:30 for this special event, have John sign some books for you, and stick around for a late supper downstairs at City Lights Cafe.   


The clear horizon was fading,
and my father and I sat together
on the warm steps,
cinder blocks painted smooth,
Daddy smelling of cows
and a cigarette, glowing, fading,

when it started, a song
both monotonous and magical,
as if God were plying
a hand pump, a musical 
machine that said, Make-it-Flow!
Darkness rising from a deep well
and flooding the woods, the corn field.

I pointed, wanting a name:
“It’s just a whippoorwill, Johnny.
Just a bird, saying, Whippoorwill.”

Still the song rose from the dark,
a siren’s voice, sounding
the alarm for me and my father,
ignorant of any danger,
father-son sitting close on the warm steps
and watching the farm fading into the night.

The Gift

In the morning, getting ready for school, 
she would say, “Look at Mr. Redbird,
such a pretty, vain creature,”
the cardinal pecking at his reflection,
dancing back and forth in the sunlight
on the car’s big bumper.

And in the evening, after milking 
and dinner and the cleaning up, 
Mama sat on a bed 
with us and told stories, or she read
Johnny and His Mule, The Jack Tales,
a Bible story book.

I wanted to read, too,
but some words gave me trouble, 
so she used flash cards:
who. . .where. . .why.
She fed me words until they made
sentence, paragraph, story.

One day, the mailman left
a flat cardboard box, a book about whales,
the blue whale dwarfing
the man who stood beside it,
and fearsome orcas breached into the living
room and roamed over

the gray carpet, where sunlight
was striped by Venetian blinds: 
I turned off the TV for an hour and read 
my book, while my mother grinned 
to herself, as she cleared away her papers,
as she prepared the evening meal.

Friday, August 17, 2012


What a self-explanatory word is "doldrums"!  It sounds like what it is, the first syllable's long mournful O sliding into the backwater liquid of L.  And then those drums, the shudder vowel of the "uh", the lid shoved down on it by the M.  And for good measure the sibilant S closing out this enervating sound of a word.  This enervating time, this summer lethargy I've been in for weeks now.

Arjun, now deceased, in a doldrums mood.  

No blogging.  Just a few poems begun, which is better than none, of course.  Much better.  One of them, tentatively titled "The Vishnu Bird" opens with a little song of promise.

The Vishnu bird startles me
this morning.  Vishnu
vishnu, he calls from the  tree
the locals call sarvis
because it blooms Eastertime,
 calling the faithful to worship. 
Barefooted, I'm walking out to the garden
in nightgown and bathrobe,
my coffee cup half full,
my head brimming over with another night's
bird calls. 

How Vishnu, in his incarnation as bird, got into my back yard, who knows.  Maybe he'll bring along some different rhythms and images.

Not even the garden has energized me as much this summer, though, Vishnu notwithstanding,  when I walk out barefooted with coffee cup in hand.  Our lettuces have been battered by rain and hail, our mustard greens gone to seed too early.  No tomatoes at all.

Still, the edges of a few leaves are beginning to turn russet.  The wind teases the hair on my arms.  Something's coming, some change of cloud-drift, some shifting of the imagination's tectonic plates. Maybe.  And though there are no tomatoes,  there are cucumbers, and more cucumbers.  What does that word sound like, cucumber?

 I leave it to you to tell me.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Another rainy morning.  Another morning to linger in bed longer than usual, my dog on the floor, atop the books and pillow left below.  It's Mother's Day, so why shouldn't I indulge myself.  And my dog.  My daughter is far away in Texas.  My husband farther away in Spain.  Why shouldn't I be a slugabed, listening to the rain on the roof, my dog snoring?  Sipping coffee that's rapidly growing cold.  (Our mornings have been cool lately, here in the mountains.)

The only thing that disturbs me is a question.  How many mothers can lie thus, this morning?  We hear much being made of motherhood.  Mitt Romney's wife calls it the "golden crown."  Religious conservatives praise it non-stop.  Too many of our politicians use that "golden crown" image to fight programs and laws that have made life a bit better for mothers in this country.  In a deep recession, mothers need those programs and laws more than ever.

And what of the mothers in gay relationships, whether they be male or female "mothers"?   Our caretakers are always our mothers, if by that we mean our nurturers, even if they only empty bedpans and give sponge baths.  If we going to honor and celebrate mothers on this day, we should consider the diverse spectrum of motherhood.  We should honor those mothers with real consideration, not with hypocritical sound-bites.

My own mother lives in SW Georgia.  I will be telephoning her as soon as I publish this post.  My brother and I are lucky; our mother has a 24 hour caregiver, and our family can afford to have her, this generous, funny, gossipy woman who loves my mother like a sister.  I celebrate her.  But I also celebrate those mothers who have no such caregiver in their last years, and I honor the mothers who struggle to deal with the costs, both financial and emotional, of late-life family care, after spending so much of their lives tending children and, more and more often, grand-children.  Hallmark cards are fine. So are flowers.  Some day after day honest celebration and consideration of Mothers, not just our own,  would be even better.

Happy Mother's Day to all of those who nurture and sustain the people around you.

Happy Mother's Day to all of those honor and sustain the mother who sustains us, this blue-green planet with her wildflowers and wonders.   Her hungry mouths.  Her many creatures huddled under leaf and brush and creek bed on this rainy Mother's Day morning.